In the summer of 1943, Colorado’s famed light infantry, 10th Mountain Division, helmed by Brigadier General Lloyd E. Jones, made Camp Hale home. It was there, tucked neatly between Minturn and Leadville, that 15,000 young faces donned white camouflage, a pair of skis, and a military-issue rifle. Eighteen months later, those same men—strangers turned brothers—were traversing Mount Belvedere and other peaks on the Italian mountain range against German forces. Trust, brotherhood, collaboration—the U.S. Army’s weirdest subdivision became a well-oiled machine under such principles. But by the late 1960s, a once-alive Camp Hale was a ghost-town.
While it’s true that the division still operates in Fort Drum, New York, the infamous Rocky Mountain unit has been defunct for close to a half-century. That is, except for one squadron toting string instruments and drum sticks instead of M1 Garands. Sometime in the early 2010s, frontman Andrew Cooney migrated from Chicago, sporting a deep knowledge of all things musical. He met Colorado natives Campbell Thomas, Tyler Gwynn, MJ Ouimette and Winston Heuga at the now-relocated Lazy Dog in Boulder. They made Boulder their home base, establishing Tenth Mountain Division in the process. As Cooney sits in Rosetta Hall near Pearl Street, sporting a deep red beanie and lumberjack beard, he says that the aforementioned words—trust, brotherhood and collaboration—are the foundation for TMD’s musical freedom.
“There’s no rules, period,” he says. “The approach we have is built on creative trust. I’ll come in with certain chord progressions in mind. Another member will have ideas for lyrics. Someone will have a couple different riffs and parts throughout. We bring it all together and say, ‘Let’s fuck around with it.’ Four of the five members are songwriters, so the possible permutations become endless.”
The very idea of unlimited musical input makes it difficult to classify TMD under a singular genre. The band’s website cites “classic southern rock” and “progressive bluegrass,” but that’s hardly a bookend. TMD’s 2021 project, Butte La Rose, plays like a Jack Kerouac novel—a true American road trip. TMD is sprinting the streets of French Quarter New Orleans on one song, then the next, the members are laying on their backs under a coral-blue Wyoming sky. If Butte La Rose was TMD’s sonic way of going nationwide, it’s worth wondering where they travel to next.
“With [Butte La Rose], we went into that recording process with a completely different album in mind,” Cooney explains. “Then COVID hit, which made us reflect on old songs and bring new stuff into those records. That reflection period gave us the chance to realize that, ‘Oh my god, we have all this other stuff.’ We went in all directions. But once we all actually get back into a recording space together, where we can share what we’ve been feeling, been writing, playing and listening to, it’s almost impossible to say.”
Cooney says he’s been feeling pure country—the old, twangy Dwight-Yoakum-style of Western. He goes into his deep love for soul and Motown, and talks about a couple songs that he started writing nearly a decade ago, set down, and picked back up this year. Heading into recording, knowing that the other four guys are coming with their own individual preferences—this creates a chaotic, beautiful melting pot of sound and style when it’s time to lay down tracks. Much of that same energy is directly channeled into TMD’s live performances, the next of which is at the Fox Theatre on January 22.
“It’s a nugget in our scene,” Cooney says of the Fox. “Playing it for the first time felt like a milestone. I think this’ll be our fifth or sixth time performing there. It’s the creme-de-la-cream of TMD, and was so important for us in our formative years. The green room, being able to walk around before and after the show talking to people—everything about it.”
The opener for TMD’s January 22 show at the Fox, Flash Mountain Flood, shares a similar musical vision. It’s a group of guys TMD has known for a while—like-minded philosophy on creative freedom makes for a full show, start to finish, that’s difficult to predict in the slightest.
“We just complement each other, period,” Cooney says. “It’s like this giant Venn diagram where everyone overlaps a little bit here and a little bit there. We listen to the same people and love the same music. For the most part, however, we stay on the outside of where our similarities lie. So the end result is different. The crossover becomes this perfect compliment to one another.”
There’s unnerving beauty in the great unknown. Imagine a group of soldiers trudging the rim of a mountain in Northern Italy. They don’t know how or when “the thing” will happen, but as soon as it does, countless hours of training and an understanding for the guy to their left and right almost certainly assures a victorious outcome. The magic of unwavering confidence can also be said for a band whose mantra is built on the shoulders of scriptless exploration—both in the recording studio and on the stage in front of a packed house. Tenth Mountain Division doesn’t know how it’ll go down upon their return to the Fox, but Cooney promises that the outcome will be a full-fledged “rock and roll party.”